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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Night Nurse

As a new but somewhat worried dad I put a hopefully sterile gown on over my clothes, waved at the lady at the desk, squeezed out the mystery disinfectant you must put on your hands and strutted into what is known as the NICU.

A woman I have never seen before is standing next to my little guy and gives me the most pleasant of smiles. "Are you Miles' dad?"

I say, "Yes, I'm John."

"Hi John.  I'm Pam." The smile fades, but not completely.  "I do need to talk to you about your son."

As she tells me that Miles is no longer on the fast track to getting out of the hospital because the doctors are concerned he just can not keep his body temperature regulated, an odd thought hits me.

"What a bizarre career."  This is the first and possibly the last time this woman will spend time with me and she gets to deliver the news that our five-day old boy is not ready for the world.  She knows that everything was going as well as can be expected for a guy who decided to break on through to the other side about six weeks early.

She also knows that, since there was never a problem with the cavalcade of nurses who had taken care of Miles  that at some point it will pop into my head that this must be HER FAULT.  She knows it's not and I know it's not but that need to blame someone has to be a part of it when you now envision more tubes and round-the-clock care for your five pound boy.

Until now, my wife and I had been the lucky ones in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Miles was five pounds seven ounces and had passed pretty much every test.

We had listened to these nurses explain to a teenage couple why their four pound boy needs them to be on time for feedings. We did this while she and I rotated in and out for feedings and brought proud grandparents up to help tend to the baby.  The nurse asked if either adolescent had a parent who could help take the load off of them.  The answer was no.

We had watched a nurse desperately try to explain to a couple that they absolutely had to get a prescription filled today but ran into a slight snag.  Neither parent spoke English and the father was trying so hard to understand what his daughter who barely seemed to have enough skin to cover her frail body needed.   This happened as I gazed in wide wonder at my little boy as he opened his eyes and looked at me like he actually knew who I was.

As we were heading back down to my wife's room my father-in-law and I walked past three nurses working on a child that seemed to fit into one of the women's hands hoping that their efforts would not end with having to deliver the worst news anyone could deliver.  From there we were able to go and look at the pictures we took of Grandpa and Grandson on the digital camera.

Seeing these people who had this calling to work in this environment go from nurturing care-givers to teachers of clueless parents to life-and-death situations and then back made me wonder just what made them think this pendulum of emotion and effort would be the way they wanted to spend their lives.

Yes, we did freak out on the drive to the hospital that this was all happening too soon and there would be problems.  However, until night number five of the Miles Pearson Era, our biggest issue was family and friends riding us because we had not posted enough pictures to Facebook.

My wife had gotten to go home on Wednesday and we had established a nice rotation of driving back and forth to the hospital.  I was even able to watch most of the Cardinals Playoff games.  (I still can't believe their run to the World Championship but even that kind of pales in comparison.   I say that despite the fact that had Miles been born on time I probably would have pitched that we name him after World Series MVP David Freese.)  But I digress.

So, on Thursday night I headed back to the hospital with freshly pumped breast milk for a feeding.  I was a little sleepy but I had gotten used to this process enough that I thought this would be kind of a short visit and I would actually get a good night's sleep and come back first thing and we would start thinking that Miles would come home.

That was until Pam had to tell me the news.

She explained that when Miles was outside the electric blanket they use to keep him warm that he simply could not hold his Body Temperature.  This is not anywhere near the most serious thing the other babies and their parents endured but this was MY little guy so nothing existed outside this little six foot space.

Pam told me that if this did not improve that Miles would have to go back in the isolette.  The isolette is a giant plastic case that kind of looks like a sneeze guard at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  It is where he started and of course it was maybe the biggest step toward knowing he was healthy when he got out of it.

Therefore, the news that he might have to go back in there smacked me around like a flurry from Muhammad Ali.  (Sorry for all the Sports references but until I entered family life I was pretty one-dimensional.)

Pam was the perfect mixture of letting me know this was important and assuring me that this was something they had handled and that Miles would handle.  Now she had to handle the fragile psyche of a father who had no clue how this should all go.

She gave me the basics of what to say my wife so I could keep her from freaking out when I called her.  She then could tell that I needed a task so she put me to work.

Until now, my role had been to feed Miles and change him and then get the heck out of the way so the nurse in charge could go about her business.  My only area of expertise was feeding him and making odd faces at him.

"Go with that," she said.  Again, she knew that our situation was still nowhere near the most dangerous or scary or even sad.  In fact, the baby next to Miles had parents who lived three hours away and did not have the money to come more than every couple of weeks.  They also had no help outside this group of nurses who brought the extra care.

However, Pam knew that the only thing that I saw was our guy in his little striped stocking cap and IV running into his toes.  She knew that I would be pretty much a zombie going home so she gave me tasks to do.

She explained that hearing my voice and feeling me touch him would be a big help.  She offered no guarantees but, even though she probably knew that her job would be easier without me in her way she made sure I felt valuable to the process.

I do not know if she heard me singing, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 to Miles or heard the endless stream of "Seinfeld", "Caddyshack" and "Saturday Night Live" references I threw at Miles.  I know that she told me that watching the little monitors would only drive me nuts.

I also know that she did have at least one or two other babies she had to keep an eye on but it never felt like she left.  For about two hours I memorized every inch of my son and took in every breath and heard every beep on the monitors that were there to tell us he was okay.

Pam finally kicked me out when she saw me actually using my fingers to pry my eyes open.  "You need to get out of here and be ready for a big day tomorrow.   Your wife will need you to help her through things if he is back in the isolette."  Again, she knew I needed a task.

The next day Miles was was back in his case.   Another amazing nurse was there to give us hope and explain everything to us.  We looked around and saw scared parents and tiny babies.  Those people were also getting support from women in brightly colored scrubs.  Again, I thought, "Where do people like this come from?"   How is it possible that there is more than one person like Pam.

I only saw Pam one more time.  Luckily, I got to drive Miles home (about ten miles an hour below the speed limit) five days later.  I know that Miles might be another baby in a blur of tiny toes and fingers and tubes and charts that help decide what different babies have in their futures.

All I know is that when, for one night, life punched me in the gut and knocked me down Pam picked me up and made sure I knew that all those tiny parts were going to work together and turn Miles into more than just my little guy.


  1. You caught the moment so well. Nicely written John. We are surrounded by heroes every day, all we have to do is take notice. - Barry Peterson

  2. Wow, John! As I watched my tiny niece, who was about 3 months early kick off the plastic cover they had over her, I felt piece that she would be okay! She weighed 1lb. 13oz. And lost about 10 oz. Before any weight gain! She was in nicu for about 3 months! That was about 32 years ago at She had no lasting problems and is a mom now! My brother is 6'6" with hands to match! The pics of him holding her in one hand, with room left over, was so sweet! Unfortunately, they had a son a few years later, full-term and healthy. He died at around two years old with neuroblastoma! So, we never know!